Mark Dillon grew up in a family where there was always something "being made". "Mum and Dad's kitchen was a ramshackle mix of jams, mustards, chutneys and cordials overflowing on stoves. I wanted nothing to do with it," laughs Mark.
Always involved in the food and beverage industry, with a degree in marketing, Mark went overseas to work as a chef and later in wine brand management. "Cider was huge in Europe and I tried an elderflower version and couldn't believe how delicious it was."
When he came back to New Zealand, he realised that heavenly taste was one of the things his mum had been making for years. So rather than continuing to shun it, he learned how to make it. "Farmers were battling elderflower everywhere round where we lived, and trying to pull it all out. It defied logic when I realised what could be made from it."
Five years ago he made his first batch of elderflower syrup from Canterbury elderflowers and Moore Wilson snapped it up. It sold out fast so he kept making more and the rest is history.
The range expanded from the elderflower cordial into a ready-to-drink sparkling range. "I ended up adding other pure juices to counteract the sweetness of the elderflower - rhubarb, blackcurrant and feijoa and they were a hit - especially the rhubarb. It even won some awards," says Mark.
Now there are six flavours in the cordial range including wild rose-hip, gooseberry, ginger lemon honey, rhubarb, and most recently quince and lime.
The Aroha Elderflower and Rhubarb drink has been my favourite drink since it launched and I still get excited if I see it in a cafe fridge. The balance is bang on with just enough tartness from the rhubarb on top of the fragrant elderflower to make it ultimately refreshing. It is the prettiest combination of flavours ever.
The feijoa version is further along the acid scale but again the balance is good so it's not too sour - a must for feijoa fans. If you prefer your elderflower straight, there is the plain elderflower sparkle with that very distinct floral flavour. I like the blackcurrant too, but for me the blackcurrant notes overpower the elderflower slightly.
The cordials are also fantastic if you want to make your own drink up. The rhubarb won me over again and I liked the gooseberry a lot. A warning that the ginger lemon honey is very heavy on the ginger. Not for the faint-hearted but I imagine it would be death to any cold.
It just goes to show, you shouldn't laugh at your parents' culinary efforts. You never know where their mad concoctions may take you.
Where to buy
Zarbo, The Barrow, Smith and Caughey's, Bhana Bros, Dida's Food Store, Farro Fresh, La Cigale, Harvest Wholefoods, Sabato, Seafood and More, plus good cafes in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.